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Review: The Glass Room, Simon Mawer

Newly married Viktor and Liesel Landauer want to build a house for themselves, but not just any house.  Viktor is the head of a huge car company in their newly created Czechoslovakia of the 1920’s, and they want a completely modern, free building, sparing them from the confines of heavy castles and palaces.  In that house, the centerpiece is the Glass Room, a space filled with windows, light, and purity.  Those windows, however, cannot restore light to the souls of the people who live and eventually work within the house, setting their darkness of spirit in sharp contrast with the beauty of the room itself.

Everything fits perfectly together in this book.  The language is beautiful, the plot is interesting and ends perfectly, and the characters are multi-faceted and interesting.  It highlights an obviously important period in history but from the slightly different viewpoint of the various ethnic groups in Czechoslovakia, living in a country constructed by a treaty and consistently struck with severe issues.  There’s a lot of fiction (and, obviously, non-fiction) about World War II and its aftermath out there and I think this book took another angle to distinguish itself, and it worked.

It was interesting that eventually, while their house is occupied by others, Viktor and Liesel lead the strange life of exiles from Nazi Germany and the countries they’ve taken over.  I can’t recall if I ever read a book about where the rich went when they fled, but it was interesting, especially when they tried to move again to a more permanent home and had to deal with other countries’ stupid prejudice.  As we know in the beginning, they make it through.  It isn’t all sunshine and roses for the characters, though, as those left behind endure the incredibly difficult experiences forced upon them by Nazi occupation and imprisonment in concentration camps.

I also really liked that the house itself was almost a character in the book.  It’s used for different purposes throughout, but everyone has their own relationship with it.  It makes them feel certain ways, reminds them of their lives – in certain ways, the house’s open spaces tempt them to do what they might not do otherwise.  It’s an interesting dynamic.

I can definitely see why The Glass Room was nominated for the Booker Prize.  It exposes the darkness and the light within people, while exploring an interesting and slightly different aspect of a war that impacted so much of our culture.  Very worth reading.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from a publicist for review.

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